Thursday, August 18, 2011

New Blog Address for everyone

Hello Friends, and readers.

I recently moved this blog over to

Update you subscriptions. There's a new post that had a very nice comment on it already.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

If you are reading this, we missed the Rapture

If you are reading this, we all missed the rapture. Harold Camping and the true followers of Christ have ascended to heaven to meet the Lord in air, we are instead here mired in tribulation at missing their warnings. Woe to us, especially the Christians who attend Evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic or any other Church! We are all apostates!!

Unless of course it didn't happen. Which, as I type this Friday night, am absolutely sure it did not.


Here is something that you may have heard already. First, let's talk about Harold Camping and his radio show. For one, this is not the first time that he has predicted the end of the world. He did it once in 1994. After a failure like that, one should probably repent, turn off the microphone, and do a little soul-searching before speaking in public again. Instead he revised his predictions. Now, he is on record now for declaring Christianity -those who belong to the church- as apostate and his show alone the voice of salvation in the world. Incidentally, he is also on record for explicitly denying the Trinity in favor of modalism. What's that? Well, according to Camping, Jesus is not co-eternal with the God-the-Father, but is simply another form of God-the-Father. This is like ice melting into water. That is not the Trinity, and Camping knows this.

In this blog, you are about to read something I have never posted. It is something that I do not like dishing out because it so inflammatory. Yet, it ought to be said here. Please understand, this not hyperbole. I mean exactly what it reads when I say Harold Camping is a damn heretic.

(bring out the comfy chair!!)

So what of his followers? I am sure that after quitting their jobs, abandoning responsibilities, and now looking like fools, they will probably be so mad that they'll not only abandon Family Radio, but also burn Harold Camping in effigy. Actually, that's probably not going to happen either, and here's a historical precedent why.

In the book Influence Robert Cialdini related the story of a few end-times cults in the American mid 19th century. Let's play "guess who": A prophet made a prediction of a date and time. The prophet gathered followers who sold their land and abandoned their livelihoods. The day passed and nothing happened. The prophet revised the date. The followers did not dissipate, but instead their numbers grew. This process happened at least one more time. You know this group today as the Seventh Day Adventists.

If you are like many people, you either scratching your head or screaming "what the fuck?!" right now. Yet from that book, we see that this is an example of psychological consistency and social proof. As soon as someone makes a verbal or written commitment to something, they are likely to stick with in even when that commitment is shown to be completely misguided. It is the same tendency that keeps women in abusive relationships. It was also used by Chinese captors to brainwash POWs of the Korean War. Social Proof augments this. As long the entire group keeps saying the same mantra -especially if they are led by a charismatic leader- everyone will believe that the continued behavior is right and nothing is going wrong. How powerful is social proof? Two words: Kool Aid.

So in the case of Camping and his ilk, they are almost certainly going to wash, revise, and repeat. They will likely (and this Christian will add thankfully) further distance themselves other Churches. Why will they do this? Because in order to do otherwise they would have to admit to themselves that they behaved really, really, stupidly.

Now to be clear, Camping is close to Dispensationalism so his views are similar to what many Evangelicals believe. However, Dispensationalism does not deserve to be lumped in with Camping's little cult. Camping used numerology to come to his conclusion. As far as I know, Dispensationalist do not do this.

Despite that, I am certainly not a Dispensationalist. As far as I am concerned, there is no coming Anti-Christ, Black Helicopters, parenthetical "Church Age", or world exiting rapture. Yes, Camping is the lunatic fringe of American religiousity. His approach to scripture is an embarrassment and a travesty. Yet, one dispensationalist told me they guess when it comes to interpreting the Bible. Is that any better than numerology?

Regardless, Camping and his ilk are likely marching on and it won't be long before we hear the prophetic revisions. I wonder if Camping is going to claim direct inspiration from God next time, assuming he hasn't already. While he does so, I'll be happy to attend a May 22nd Sunday service. There, with others, we will all contemplate the intrinsic goodness of God's creation and the saving work of Christ within it. May God's work continue in the World!

Thanks for reading, comment, and your reposts.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Star Crossed Christians?

As I wandering through Sunae, in Korea, I was listening to another episode of the Boundless show. The hosts were having a round table discussion on who to date and who not date. There is, after all, a tendency of some people not to date anyone unless they know everything about the other person, from their denomination to their sexual history. Boundless thought, correctly, that this is unreasonable. It was their opinion that the criteria of who is eligible for an eligible date boils down to one thing: is that person a Christian?

This a good thought, but you can't help but wonder if it is that simple. Evangelical Christians and non-Evangelical Christians should be able to enter into a relationship. Yet simply adding religion to a relationship creates an entire spider web of issues that must be dealt with one way or another. Can Evangelical Christians and Non-Evangelical Christian date? (note, I'm asking about romantic involvement prior to marriage, not marriage.)

On facebook, my friends Andre and Nicole rightly mentioned that the terms need a bit more qualification. As a starting point for discussion here are three different pairs of potentially star-crossed lovers. Let's assume that all couples here are in their 20s and have never been married.

First, She's new to Seattle and joined Mars Hill Church! He's a nominal Methodist. They met at a friend's birthday. Star-crossed?

Second She came from a Catholic high school and he's a big fan of Rob Bell! They both attend UC San Diego! Star-crossed?

Third He's from the PCUSA and a conservative Calvinist. She's from Calvary Chapel. They've both been in marathon training. Star-crossed?

So the door is open for discussions. Ponder a bit before you respond. Also, don't feel like you have to share you own observations and experiences, though it would be nice to see some real life examples here.

For my part, there is one thing worth mentioning. One of favorite theologians once explained that Aristotelian Love is "like seeks after like." Christian love includes this, but it must go one step further. Christian love loves what is different, alien, and foreign.

In light of that I would like to believe that I am still open to dating an Evangelical despite shedding the Evangelical mantle years ago. Yet I am not naive. I know that evangelicalism has its own list of customs, expectations, and rules that I am not sure if I could fit into.

Yet there is hope. As I type this, I have one friend who is engaged to someone outside of his tradition. He is not the first either.

I look forward to everyone sharing their thoughts, especially those long explanations hinted at on facebook.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Heresy and Hell: An interactive Blog Experience!!

It hasn't been that long since Love Wins was released. Yet the explosion of writing on it makes it feel much longer. The vanguard of reformed othrodoxy anathemesized Rob Bell. The two most notable leaders have been Piper who declared "Farewell Rob Bell" and Pastor DeYoung who cried heresy.

Heresy. That's not a weak charge. Could you tell me what you really think, Pastor DeYoung?

Do you remember what it was like to be a younger Christian? Maybe you can listen to a little story. When I was younger evangelical I knew -or at least thought I did- who was in and out when it came to the Christian faith. Evangelicals were in. Catholics were in, but not as in as Evangelicals. Mormons were completely out. Conservative protestants were in. Hippie new-age Christians were out. Orthodox/Near-Eastern Christians were maybe "in" but only with great suspicion. Of course, back then it was never clear to me why that list existed. Or which beliefs were essentials or why those beliefs but not others.

Why, for instance, could Christians disagree about the whole Calvinism/Arminianism thing, but not the Trinity? Why was is kissing icons considered pagan, but not keeping Christmas trees? Can you believe in baptizing infants and still be a full Christian?

If you have ever wondered about that -and you probably have- than you may be equally confused. However, this blog is not about what I think, but it will be about what you think. Yes, this blog is interactive today! Why read this? Why follow along? Because this issue of hell and heresy is something that all Christians are going to have to think about, so please grab a pen and paper and attach your thinking camp now. It is going to be fun!

Here are four ideas that Christians believe, in no particular order:
  • Christians look forward to a physical, bodily resurrection.

  • God is three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

  • Those who reject Jesus will suffer unending, conscious, torment in hell.

  • Jesus Christ is both 100% God and 100% human, known as the incarnation

You have probably heard them all in sermons, books, and blogs. Think about what your pastor emphasizes in his sermons. Remember the feelings that you have about each one. How do these influence your life? Do they come to mind in times of prayer or worship? Are they in your church's statement of faith? Ponder this for a moment, then continue reading.

Now with that pen and paper -and please do use a pen and paper- write them all down in order of importance and number them 1 to 4. Yes, they may all be equally important. This is only a thought experiment. Still, your intuition will probably guide you. Take only a few minutes, and then continue reading.

Now look at number 4 -your least important belief- and cross it out.

Let's now pretend that we are figuring out the essentials of the Christian faith. Numbers one, two, and three are what matter most to Christians. To violate these is to be anathematized and decidedly "out." Number four could be very biblical, but it is not an essential. Christians can disagree about that one.

Why did number four sink to the bottom, for you? What took precedence over it and why? Do you think about number four the least often? Is number two or three mentioned more often in the praise and worship songs of your church? Is number one frequently mentioned in your pastor's sermons? Or is there another reason entirely?

Now you might be thinking, "hey, we don't need to limit the essentials to three things. We don't even have to put them order. All four could be equally important! You're a mean blogger!" If you do, you are absolutely right*. The list is only a thought experimentand there is no need to limit the essentials to only three beliefs. It is entirely possibly that all four are equally important.

That is, in fact, what Kevin DeYoung and those who likewise anathematize Rob Bell are committed to. At minimum, a belief in eternal torment is as important as the hope for a future bodily resurrection, the Trinity, and the incarnation. This is true whether they are explicit about it or not.

In your comments you can share your list and your thoughts on this matter. Go ahead and skip this next part, scroll down, post, and share with friends of facebook because every evangelical is going to confront this sooner or later.

For me such a thing feels just plain weird. I could never consider all four beliefs equally important and equally essential. Certainly, the Trinity, the Incarnation, and future resurrection are lifted from scripture. They are equally emphasized in the major creeds, which Christians often use as arbiter between who is "out" and "in." Those three beliefs have become incredibly important to me in Sunday worship, the songs I sing, and how I interact with others. The Trinity reminds me of the importance of community. The bodily resurrection reminds me of hope after death and hope in this world today.

Eternal torment in hell simply isn't in the same category. It is as if I have to believe in three things that are good, that inspire Christians to do good, and then add on the loudest fear-appeal in history! Remember sesame street? "One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn't belong..."

It is simply way too weird.

*except maybe the mean blogger part. I'm a nice guy! I swear! I think....

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Book Review for Love Wins

My initial plan with this review was to write first about all the nasty things that have been said about Rob Bell and his book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. However, I think that writing an actual review of this book might be a bit more urgent at this point. I will still be writing a blog about the common criticisms of Rob Bell (some of which are good, and many of which are bad), but that will probably have to wait until the weekend. For now, I'll say that I don't believe that a belief in eternal torment in hell is an essential for the Christian faith, and I sometimes get a little frustrated with those who do.

Now to the review. Rob Bell is an incredibly lucid and talented writer. Many people accuse Rob Bell of "confusion" and insist that people need "clarity" instead of the emergent theology or such. Honestly though, if you read the book, you will probably find it pretty clear.

Maybe "confusion" is thoughtful questions to assumed doctrines. If that be the case, than I think a little bit of confusion is needed. In fact, Rob Bell's questions were my favorite part of the book. The first part of his questions could be summed up in the phrase "Hell: isn't it a little bit weird?" Secondly, he believes that there might not be a clear way to tell whether or not someone is "in" or "out" when it comes to heaven/hell. To support this claim, Rob Bell cites several Bible passages -about a dozen- that show that there is a great deal of ambiguity on this subject.

This is something that many Christians know already -espeically those who are emergent. The fact that evangelicalism wants this to be clear and exclusive might be part of the reason why evangelicalism can be culturally clueless. If you think that you and your exclusive club are the only one's who get in, than those are the only people you deeply associate with. If those are the only people you associate with, than you have a self-perpetuating social-proof of what makes someone "in." It becomes harder to understand those who are "out." It is a sub-culture that things it is relevant to the main culture, when it is in fact semi-autistic.

There is another charge that was tossed against Rob Bell. Rob Bell does "hermenutical gymnastics" to make his points. For sake of example, you can probably examine Rob Bell's assertion regarding the word "hell" in the Gospels. It comes from the word Gehenna when spoken by Jesus. This is really important point since many assert that Jesus spoke of eternal torment and hellfire, since he did -in fact- mention "hell." However, Rob Bell says that when Jesus was saying gehenna he was referencing Jerusalem's disgusting, burning, city dump. Here's why:
  • The etymology of word Gehenna

  • Relevant historical facts about Jersusalem in Jesus' time

  • The usage of the word Gehenna in Jesus' time.

How is that "hermenutical gymnastics"? Isn't that what you are supposed to do when you exegete a Bible passage?

I obviously haven't read every last internet critique of Love Wins, but I have not found anyone who actually addresses Rob Bell's point here: When Jesus says "hell," he is not referring to the nine layers of Dante's inferno. He is referring to garbage dump outside Jerusalem. This only one example of Rob Bell's exegesis, and cannot address all of them for you here.

Now many have criticized Rob Bell for not dealing with certain issues. It is true that Rob Bell did not address any of the predictable objections to his view. Yet, sometimes these critics demand to much. For instance, why did not Rob Bell discuss the two wills of God or limited atonement? I would venture to guess it is because Rob Bell is not a Calvinist (which should be obvious!) and is not writing to Calvinists. Why didn't Rob Bell expand on a particular issue, like penal substitution? I suppose because he is writing a popular book -which introduces and surveys a topic- rather than a article for an academic journal -which is very specific and narrow.

Despite all that, I still feel that the major weakness of Rob Bell's book was that he never answered any particular objections. Doing such, in my opinion, is one of the most important things you can do when you drop a bomb like this. Greg Boyd's God of the Possible was equally if not more controversial. In that book, Boyd devoted an entire chapter to answering objections in fair, direct, and polite manner. A simple addendum to Love Wins would have been equally desirable. It would have been nice if Rob Bell offered an alternative to penal substitution in this book too.

Ultimately though, I feel that all reviews of the book will fall short. Much of the internet does not deal with the substance of the Love Wins, but instead cry "liberal" or other anathemas. Like the Harry Potter series, many evangelicals have decided that it is wrong already and have not bothered to give it read.

The next blogs will mention a few of those other anathemas. Until then, thank you for reading, commenting, and reposting.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Lenten fast, let us repent of "politics."

"The hope for the world is not in Washington" -Erwin McManus during the 2008 elections

Today is the first week in the season of Lent. A time when Christians prepare ourselves to receive God's coming as the pilgrims in Jerusalem did on the first "Palm Sunday." This is a time when people often fast from one thing or another in order to examine conscience.

Here's an interesting thought, why not deepen one's spiritual life by giving up political news media? Forty days, isn't really that long.

It may seem like a strange recommendation, and what fast you choose is always what is best for you. It might be consistent with the Gospel, though. Chaplin Mike at Internet Monk wrote a great piece -that could be good sermon- on "repenting" of the political mindset. This does not mean repenting of being a republican, a democrat, or changing some stance. It means, it seems to me, repenting of the belief that the hope for the world is somehow 'in' our often hateful political system.

This is in fact, what a large part of Jesus' call to discipleship meant. During his time there were plenty of angry, oppressed, Jewish peasantry who had one way or another to get their vision of the world accomplished. Some wanted a violent overthrow of Rome. Others wanted a peaceful co-existence until God vindicated them. Many "sold-out" to Roman political power. A few decided to go off into the wilderness and ignore the "apostates." To all these people Jesus said, "drop your political agendas, and sign on for the Kingdom of God." If Jesus was here today, would he encourage us to stay-tuned to Glenn Beck, Rachael Maddow, or even the Daily Show? What if all such is building political towers of babel?

There is a second thing, and this is where it hits me the hardest. I used to enjoy talk radio and political blogs quite a bit. Then, as I grew older I began to realize something. Much of the political talk -and I don't mean just radio personalities- is ... rage porn.. Many pundits exist not to inform you, but to get you angry. Anger is actually addictive, and you'll probably tune in a bit more for the adrenaline rush. I think this is actually worse when it is on TV because most of your cognitive functions shut down when you're watching the zombie-glow of the plasma screen. I personally count anger as almost always a sin, and try avoid people who are making me so on purpose.

Most Americans, in my humble opinion, feel that there is something wrong with pundits, sensationalism, and rage-porn. As Christians, we might just have an added call on top of that: abandon your political projects, and sign up with the Kingdom of God.

What steps can Christians take do so this Lenten season?

Monday, March 7, 2011

"Check your premises" all about hell

LOVE WINS. - Available March 15th from Rob Bell on Vimeo.

There's a new virus spreading on the internet. It's called "Rob Bell releases a new book."

People have already begun to accuse Rob Bell of universalism. I'll keep my opinion of Rob Bell quiet until I get a chance to read the book, which comes out later this month. Nevertheless, there is already a huge blog buzz about a prominent evangelical pastor making statements that sound like universalism. He would not be the first minister to be anathematized as such.

The purpose of this blog is not to take a position on exclusivism (only Christians go to heaven), inclusivism (Christians and some others go to heaven), universalism (everybody goes to heaven) or annihilationism (there is no hell), but rather to frame the debate. Specifically, I feel that detractors of Rob Bell (or anyone else who sounds universalist) might consider checking their premises.

What I mean is this: people who argue for the necessity of hell or God's wrath often assume that certain premises are true and undisputed. They are so deeply assumed that people often forget how to defend them. This is bad, because -mark my words- debates about universalism/inclusivism will lead to additional debates about the three premises I am about to mention. If other Christians want to persuade Rob Bell or others, they must be prepared to defend these major premises, and not make the mistake of assuming that they are self-evident and undisputed. Reformed Christians especially (forgive the generalization) seem to make this mistake.

Also, yes, this kind of thing is important for everyday Christian living. After all, another Pastor, Kevin DeYoung argues that we need hell to even forgive our enemies.

Let us begin:

Premise number 1: Justice is avenging evil-doers. This seems to make sense right? Justice, especially divine justice, is making sure that the evil-doer gets what's coming to them. Think of the death penalty. A famous Texas comedian once remarked "If you kill someone [in Texas], we will kill you back." A more academic example is Kant, who said that the death penalty was not just an option, but a moral requirement in the case of a murder. Even the Christian saint Thomas Aquinas said that "Justice was getting what is due to you."

However, this is not the only vision of justice. This idea of retribution has been criticized. An alternative is the idea of restorative justice. This type of justice is not concerned about smiting evil, but restoring what was lost to evil. Instead of "If you kill someone, we will kill you back" it says "If you kill someone, God will raise them back to life." It also implies that all are corrupted by evil, and restorative justice seeks to "restore" what evil did to the soul of the evil-doers themselves.

Premise Number 2: Penal Substitution is the best/only atonement theory. Penal Substitution is common idea. It is so popular that many do not know of any alternatives. I had to get a degree in theology before I heard of alternatives!

It works like this: Humanity has offended God with sin. Since God is infinitely good, so the debt of sin also infinite. Humanity is finite and cannot pay the infinite debt. God must somehow "pay" the infinite debt since no one else can. So God became human in Jesus in order to pay the infinite debt on the cross. This is very dry and technical, but I think it sounds familiar to everyone.

Now, please look for that description of atonement in the New Testament. Yes, please find something very specific. Make it as specific as Anselm's Cur Deus Homo ("why God became man"). A Lutheran minister once shared that penal substitution comes down to us from the middle ages -and he's right. Anselm wrote in the 12th century. That does not make his theory of atonement wrong, but it does put it up for debate doesn't it? When we think about penal substitution, we should not think "how does the Bible teach this?" but rather "did Anselm get it right?"

Premise Number 3: Things are made right/good because God says so. Of all the things mentioned here, I think this one is the quickest to come up. Someone might say that heaven doesn't seem good if there's a tiny torture chamber somewhere near it. Similarly, someone might mention that God's goodness does not allow room for eternal suffering. A common response is something like "God decides what is good" along with pious appeal to Romans 9:16-19.

The problem with this, is that it assumes a certain answer to the famous Euthyphro dilemma. The question is "Are things good because God loves them, or does God love them because they are good?" I think many Christians answer "good because God loves them" and may even endorse baby eating if God said so. I don't think, though, that the question is so easily settled by an appeal to Romans 9 or similar passages. That passages tells that we don't know the reasons for God's choices. God may not tell us his reasons for mercy, or those reasons might be beyond our keen, but neither one of those implies no reasons at all. Not all Christians are happy with "because God says so" type of answers. This blogger sure isn't

Now of course it is possible that someone might believe all three of these premises and be a full blown universalist. Alternately, they may disagree with all three and still be an exclusivist. No matter what though, these things are going to come up in the internet debates, magazine articles, and book reviews about Rob Bell's new book. If Rob Bell really is a universalist, and his detractors uses these premises to condemn him for it, they will need to articulate and defend them quite carefully.

Reposts, retweets make me happy. So also do your welcome comments.